The Unforgettable Tribute: MLK, U2, and the Making of “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

January 20, 2013 by  

MLK, among so many other things, was music.

With his voice alone, Martin Luther King, Jr. made music.

The rhythm and melody that permeated Martin Luther King, Jr. was evident not only in the way that he moved and spoke, but in the way that he inspired musicality in others. One of the greatest orators of our time – or any other – King’s mastery of language made his speeches lyrical as well as life-affirming.

In his non-violent pursuit of civil rights equality, an a cappella delivery of MLK’s words were sufficient to stir deep passions – he didn’t sound like bagpipes or a cavalry bugle, but hearing his voice makes you immediately electrified, and once more strong for the fight.

It was an instrument that rightly won him the Nobel Peace Prize, and helped solidify his legacy as an intellectual leader for the ages via landmark speeches like “I Have a Dream”, and so many more.

“Pride” – An Emotional Ride

It’s no surprise, then, that his influence is imprinted within what people traditionally refer to as music – songs with singers, guitars, beats, bass, and keyboards. On the sampling front from Michael Jackson to Paul McCartney and Common, the Orb to Linkin Park and scores of others, MLK has served as a powerful sound source.

Arguably, one of the greatest-ever musical tributes to MLK stands out in the form of “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, U2’s masterpiece from the 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire. Riveting from Moment One, “Pride” is one of those cosmic confluences that defines a classic: the beautifully rhythmic  guitar work of the Edge, drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.’s big beat is simultaneously complex and simply satisfying, Adam Clayton’s musing bass foundation. And then Bono’s incomparable voice comes, starting off in the verse’s quiet awe before soaring to the hair-raising heights of the chorus.

“Pride” is a structurally simple song, and this upward spiraling cycle gets broken only by the bridge. At the 1:40 mark appears what is certainly the most uncomplicated guitar solo arrangement ever recorded in the history of rock: eight consecutive repetitions of the same single note, exquisitely energized by the Edge’s unique battery of delay pedals and other effects.

If “Pride” is up your alley, then your experience of the song is 3:49 of perfection. Anywhere your ears land at any moment – vocals, guitar, bass drums – what you hear is deeply moving, and builds momentum as the song surges forward. The gang vocals that appear in the third chorus are the perfectly imperfect element that somehow takes “Pride” even higher, connecting band and listeners to the song’s history-changing hero – a campfire singalong where 1,000,000 people can easily join hands.

As did MLK himself, the song accomplishes so much in such a short span of time. And in yet another parallel, rather than diminishing, the power of “Pride” only grows with repeated exposure.

View from the Studio

Engineer/mixer Kevin Killen was there — and then some — for the recording of “Pride”.

One person with a unique perspective on U2’s musical monument to MLK is the New York City-based engineer/mixer Kevin Killen. Working alongside The Unforgettable Fire co-producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois in his native Ireland, Killen was present for the numerous recording sessions that brought the song together.

As part of the engineering team that had recorded U2’s War record and Under a Blood Red Sky mini-LP live album, Killen had already been treated to a front-row seat of the band’s considerable capabilities. As is well-documented, The Unforgettable Fire’s first set of sessions took place at County Meath’s picturesque Slane Castle, enabled by a portable 24-track recording system supplied by Randy Ezratty’s mobile recording company Effanel Music. After a month of work at Slane, U2 and the rest of their crew relocated to the more controlled conditions of Dublin’s Windmill Lane Studios to finish the record.

Before it could reach the pristine state we hear today, Killen reminds that “Pride” had to overcome some serious struggles before its completion at Windmill Lane. “There were two issues,” Killen recalls, taking a break from a mix session at Ezratty’s studio in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood. “Bono hadn’t settled on finished lyrics for the song, and so we were constantly looking at the arrangement to see if there was something about it that was preventing him from getting the words finalized. And Larry’s drum part was proving to be tricky, especially getting the roll right going into the chorus.

“But then Bono was finally able to get the lyrics the way he wanted, and execute the track. It wasn’t one particular word that was a problem, so much as he was just trying to get the exact sentiment to express. He knew what he was trying to say, but he was challenged just trying to get the right thing.”

The gestalt moment – when Bono found what he was looking for – was instantly apparent to everyone at Windmill Lane. “The first time he sang the finished lyrics everyone in the control room looked at each other and said, ‘That was definitely it,’” says Killen. “It was so obvious that he felt comfortable singing that lyric.”

The poetic final lines had arrived. They were written about the great Martin Luther King, Jr., but they could have been said by him just as easily (and indeed three of them were), in one of his unforgettable speeches: “Early morning, April 4/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride.”

Much of “Pride” had already been recorded to that point – suddenly the moment had arrived to launch it to the next level. An AKG C12 mic was waiting for Bono, connected to the preamp of an SSL E Series console with an LA-2A compressor inserted across the buss output.

As the singer was approaching the mic in the live room, Killen stepped up to the proverbial plate in the control room, one hand at the ready on the remote for the Otari MTR 90 tape machine – the young engineer was poised to pop a punch-in that he’d never forget.

“He sang it in one take,” Killen says. “I remember punching it in on the tape machine: Every hair on my body stood up. It was such a spine-tingling moment. He said something so concisely, so perfectly, about MLK’s life.”

Lasting Impact

Killen had the extreme privilege that only an engineer, producer, and an artist’s bandmates can experience: to be there for the magic moments of a classic song’s studio recording, getting the very first listen of a sound that will reach millions of ears for years upon years.

And, of course, Killen wasn’t the only one whose spine tingled at the sound of “Pride (In the name of Love)”. Released as the lead single for The Unforgettable Fire in September 1984, it was the biggest hit yet for U2, breaking the top 5 in the U.K. and the Top 40 in the U.S. While its peak position on the Billboard Hot 100 was only #33, “Pride” was inexorably connected to turning U2 in what it is now – a very, very, very big rock group.

“Pride (In the Name of Love” was released in September, 1984.

“When the band got here in 1984,” says Killen, “there was a very positive reaction to that track. And that was a very special period, stemming from the fact that the band were trying to do something different from their previous three releases.

“On that tour, they went from playing small 2,500-seat theaters to 4,000-seat theaters. Six months after that, they were playing arenas, so U2 saw their own career take off from that album release, up to a different level. And when you see them play ‘Pride’ live, you realize that it’s bass, drums, guitars, vocals, and no embellishments. It just works very well — very powerful, and very emotional.”

Being There

When great leaders emerge, their power to inspire action and art is a gift uniquely theirs to give the world. Growing up in Ireland, it’s reasonable to expect that Kevin Killen had no inkling that the life of Martin Luther King would help fulfill the aspiration held by so many in the music industry – to have a role in the making of a timeless song.

“At the time that we work on them, most engineers hope for songs to become classics,” says Killen, whose GRAMMY-winning career continues on, with hit records for clients including Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, Jewel, Bon Jovi, Shawn Colvin, Shakira, Sugarland, Bryan Ferry, and Duncan Sheik. “When you get to be a part of one of them, or a number of them, it becomes pivotal in your career. You’re forever associated with the project, and that can never be taken away from you. Whether your participation was large or small, you’re always connected to it.

“When I sit and listen to ‘Pride’,” he continues, “I can remember that pivotal sequence of events that occurred when the song went from being difficult to record, to being realized. You look around the room, and realize you’ve captured a very special moment. That moment stays with you forever.”

Engineers and producers who crave that sensation need no small amount of luck to be in that right place, at the right time. But Kevin Killen knows that audio pros who are focused on the music can also turn their quest for a classic into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Obviously, we all want to work with an artist that has something to say,” he points out. “Our job is to somehow set the stage so they can truly express themselves in that environment, without judgment, and convey what they’re trying to get out there. If you can be a part of that process, it can be incredibly rewarding not just for yourself, but for the artist.”

Sound Out

In a magic case of things coming full circle, one light that made MLK shine so brightly was that he enabled many millions to express who they truly were, as well.

Equipped with his voice and views – and often aided by a microphone – Martin Luther King, Jr. engineered a movement that unequivocally impacted the world. U2 were among the many who have heard his call. They went on to reflect that spirit forever in a song.

No matter what your walk of life, the chance to somehow have a hand in a timeless work — or even an Earth-changing attitude — may be closer than you think. You too may create something that qualifies. All of us should certainly try.

– David Weiss

Ask the Rock & Roll Zen Master: Is The Edge a Good Guitarist or Not?

November 16, 2012 by  

The Rock & Roll Master Zen Master, aka SonicScoop’s “Smarter in Sixty Seconds” blogger Mark Hermann, is now available to answer your questions:

The Edge: Getting what he deserves?

Dear R&RZM,

Do people frequently say to you that U2’s The Edge “isn’t a very good guitarist”? I hear that all the time.

Teetering on The Edge

Dear TOTE,

I have heard that too about The Edge.

It’s classic musician bullshit really. Yes, if you wanted to tear him apart from a technical guitar prowess standpoint, one could say he’s not exactly a shredder. You might as well throw Keith Richards in there too. Let’s see, John Lennon, Bryan Adams, even Springsteen. All average-to-decent guitar players with a huge songwriting legacy they’ve left for us.

What The Edge is is a profound stylist. I believe he paints with a sonic palette of special effects, which leads him to riffs and song ideas born from the sounds he creates. Well documented in the movie, It Might Get Loud.

Gee, which would you rather suffer from — maybe not being able to out-duel Steve Lukather in a guitar solo war of hand-to-hand combat, or be sitting on top of a mountain of money and acclaim built from the amazing body of work you’ve created?

My dos pesos.

NYC-based producer/artist/engineer/more Mark Hermann spends his life in the professional service of music. He has toured the world with rock legends, produced hit artists, and licensed music for numerous TV/film placements. Hermann also owns a recording studio in a 100-year old Harlem Brownstone. Keep up with him at Rock & Roll Zen.  Ask him a question at info@sonicscoop.com.

The Kevin Killen Interview

July 18, 2012 by  

Kevin Killen is a Grammy-winning engineer and producer best-known for his work on classic albums by U2, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, and Tori Amos – not to mention a long list of well-known contemporary singers, songwriters and bands.

Kevin Killen at Frisbie Studios, NYC

On this episode of Input\Output, hosts Geoff Sanoff and Eli Janney sit down with Kevin to talk about the two albums he worked on that most influenced them as engineers: U2’s Unforgettable Fire and Peter Gabriel’s So.

The stories behind both of these records are fascinating. For Unforgettable Fire (1984), Killen worked in an 18th-century castle his native Ireland with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. On So (1985), Killen unexpectedly found himself in the middle of a ten-month “mixing” session in a converted farmhouse on the English countryside.

Since relocating to the United States in the late 80s, Killen has been living and, largely, working in NYC. A longtime proponent of in-the-box mixing, he’s been outspoken about his all-digital workflow – a topic which Geoff and Eli dig into here as well.

Listen to individual segments below, or (better yet) download this episode in its entirety to listen wherever you go!

Input\Output is produced by Justin Colletti for SonicScoop.com. This episode was recorded at Frisbie Studios in NYC.

Joe D’Ambrosio Management (NY) Opens European Office

August 2, 2011 by  

Joe D’Ambrosio, founder and CEO of Mamaroneck, NY-based producer/mixer management firm Joe D’Ambrosio Management, Inc. (JDMI)  has announced the opening of a European office based in Paris, France: Joe D’Ambrosio Management/Europe.

Joe D'Ambrosio has expanded to Europe.

Former EMI Continental Europe and Capitol France executive Emily Gonneau will be running the European office as liaison between the JDMI roster and their European clientele. Ms. Gonneau is a graduate of the Sorbonne and speaks English, French, Spanish and German.

Now in its 10th year of operation, Joe D’Ambrosio Management represents such talent as Tony Visconti, Hugh Padgham, Elliot Scheiner, Kevin Killen, Joe Zook, Larry Gold, Rob Mounsey and Thom Monahan among others.

JDMI’s clientele have worked with U2, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Rihanna, David Bowie, Beyonce, OneRepublic, Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Sting, Shakira, Pink, Kaiser Chiefs, Peter Gabriel, Morrissey, Ayo, Raphael, Norah Jones, Modest Mouse, Beck, Justin Nozuka, The Roots, Fujiya & Miyagi, Little Joy, Angelique Kidjo and hundreds of others.

Robert L. Smith Records/Mixes for “Burma Soldier” Score with U2, Notches Hits with “Glee”

May 7, 2011 by  

NYC-based producer/engineer Robert L. Smith, founder of Defy Recordings, has been involved in a pair of recent high profile film/TV projects.

Robert L. Smith of Defy Recordings helped power the new “Glee” album to the toppermost of the poppermost.

Smith worked with film composer Paul Brill on the score for HBO’s upcoming film, Burma Soldier. Smith and Brill recorded a string quartet at Avatar Studio G to accompany an acoustic version of the classic U2 song “Walk On”. Smith mixed the song, which will serve as the music for the end credits, at Defy Recordings’ studio in Hell’s Kitchen.

In addition, the album Glee: The Music Presents the Warblers was released on April 19, entering the Billboard 200 at #2, as well as the iTunes album charts at the same position. Smith recorded/mixed four songs on the accapella collection, including the first (and so far only) #1 “Glee” hit “Teenage Dream”, along with “Silly Love Songs”, “Bills Bills Bills”, “Hey Soul Sister” and “When I Get You Alone”.

James Brown Lives. In New York. And He Mixes Records.

April 7, 2011 by  

PARK SLOPE, BROOKLYN: We know what you’re thinking. You’ve seen this name somewhere before. And not only on the marquee of the Apollo or littered among the best of your old soul 45s: this James Brown‘s engineering credits appear on records alongside iconic producers including Butch Vig, Alan Moulder, Flood, Kevin Shields, Daniel Lanois and Gil Norton.

James Brown, the engineer

Since starting his career in London, Brown has moved stateside and worked with an impressive roster that features some of the most recognizable alternative acts the major-label world has on offer. He’s engineered and mixed records for Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails, Arctic Monkeys, U2, Bjork, The Bravery, The Killers, and Brazilian Girls.

As of this week, Brown’s most recent credits include a new release from one of the moment’s most -referenced independent bands, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

We talked to Brown about working alongside his heroes, building a studio for Foo Fighters, and joining Flood to help the Pains re-interpret their quirky “twee-pop” sound as something decidedly more muscular and hi-fi.

ON LIVING AND WORKING BICOASTALLY

JC: You started making records in London, moved to New York, and regularly work in L.A. as well. Can you give us a sense for how the studio culture varies between these three major hubs?

JB: I can’t say I’ve really noticed much of a difference between these places. I think it’s a very specific sort of person that makes a good studio manager, much like it’s a very specific sort of person makes a good engineer or producer. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel all that different.

So with all this experience in these other cities, why call New York home?

Well it really is the greatest city in the world. I’ve felt a deep connection to New York ever since I first visited in the early 90′s. It’s also extremely convenient since my wife is American!

You recently spent a lot of time with the Foo Fighters out west helping them build a studio. Can you tell us a bit about that process?

I first talked with Dave [Grohl] about recording Wasting Light at the end of 2009. He said he wanted to make it at home, and that he was keen to replicate some of the sense of accomplishment they’d felt making their third record [There Is Nothing Left To Lose] at his old house in Virginia.

He had a room in his current home that they wanted to change from a Pro Tools-based studio to an analog one. All of the major construction work had already been done for the room’s previous incarnation.

Brown at Foo Fighters' converted garage studio "607" with Butch Vig

There was an existing control room and an iso booth, and there was a small room directly beneath the control room that we could use to house the tape machines. So it really it came down to us adapting what was already there, finding a way of fitting enough of what we needed to handle recording a pro-grade record, and adapting as best we could to things like the shape and acoustics of the control room.

Then, in March, I put up a handful of mics, got a quick drum sound and recorded some rough demos with Dave and Taylor [Hawkins] just to see what we were dealing with in terms of the sound of the garage.

To our surprise it sounded awesome: aggressive, present, punchy – basically perfect for the kind of record they envisioned making. So we didn’t do a thing in terms of treatment to the garage. All we did was put three large gobos up on the inside of the garage door to stop some of the noise escaping and annoying the neighbors.

From the beginning, we had a pretty clear idea that this was going to be a straight-ahead, balls-out rock record: no ballads, no acoustic guitars, no strings, etc., so the pre-amps, compressors and EQs were chosen with that in mind. We got an API 1608 console with an additional 16-channel extension. In part, we chose it because of its compact size, but mainly, it’s because I’ve loved the sound of API gear for years. Their EQ is just so musical.

It worked out pretty well I think. All of that stuff saw a lot of use. Even though it wasn’t part of the plan, I’m really happy knowing Dave can sit down in that room and feel like he could figure out how to turn stuff on and start recording, and that in a few years time we won’t have to worry about him looking around wondering why we wasted all that money on a bunch of stuff he’s never going to use again!

ON WORKING AS AN ENGINEER, ALONGSIDE AND UNDER OTHER PRODUCERS

You’ve had the privilege of working with an impressive list of truly singular producers. Which ones have left the biggest impact on your workflow and style?

Brown at Metalworks in Toronto working with Placebo

Honestly, they’re all inspirational on some level. And everyone works differently, so that’s always fun.

Butch Vig is extraordinarily talented in so many ways, but I think one of his biggest strengths is his ability to coax great performances out of people. Flood is like a painter in the fine-art sense of the word, and Alan Moulder is a genius at putting sounds together. All of them have impeccable taste.

I’d say Alan has had the biggest influence on me, because when I started out as an engineer, his sound was what set the bar for me on a personal level. I literally modeled myself on him as an engineer long before I even knew him, so when we did eventually meet there was kind of an instant rapport and understanding. I think it helps that we’re kind of made of the same stock.

Butch and Flood have been a huge inspiration, because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about production and whether that’s something I want to try my hand at again. With the exception of the work I’ve done with David Ford, in the past I always felt a little dissatisfied with the end result of the records I produced. So working with Butch and Flood still shows me a great deal about what I can do better on the production end.

Are there any other Producers whose work you’re really loving today?

Peter Katis. I adore his work with Oneida, and The National, but what he did with Jónsi [Birgisson, of Sigur Rós] is on a whole other level.

Regardless of how you might feel about the music, the sheer volume of musical parts and ideas that make up that record… I’m in awe of how he’s managed to take that mountain of information and still fashion a record that is not only coherent, but often stunningly beautiful.

I hear you there. I had the pleasure of mixing a record Peter recorded drums on, and those tracks were a dream to work with.

Can you articulate how the process of working as an engineer, under or alongside a producer, might be different from what some of our solo producers or home-studio engineers are familiar with?

With Gil Norton and Brendan Benson at Rak in London

Well, when there’s someone there who knows how to produce, it’s hugely liberating. They can kind of guide everyone and convey a clear idea of what the bigger picture is.

There’s still an enormous amount of room to be creative within the confines of just being “an engineer” if that’s the only thing you’re being asked to do.

But the job of engineering can be quite political at times. It’s important to know when to voice an opinion and when to keep it to yourself, when to impose yourself creatively and when not to, when to spend time experimenting and when to just get the ball rolling as quickly as you can.

I think the most important thing is to not get bogged down with the technicality of it all, and to always keep the session moving forward. That’s ultimately a huge part of the job. Obviously you want to make it sound good, but a large part of it is facilitating the vision of the people who are going to be responsible for it after the fact, whether that’s the artist or the producer. I think if you can do all of that as efficiently and as artfully as you can, then you’re doing an excellent job.

ON THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have a new release out this week. Their past records have been quirky, organic, thick-but-jangly “twee-pop.”  It’s a musical style and production flavor halfway between Belle and Sebastian and third-generation shoegaze.

This latest release is tighter, larger, with a lot more sonic power and immediate impact. As an engineer, how do you help them retain some of their emotional feel and indie charm on such a massive sounding production?

Flood and Kip Berman during Pains' sessions at Stratosphere Sound

The feel and charm comes from them. That’s who they are. In my humble opinion (and not to detract at all from Flood’s fantastic work) at the end of the day the production is really just presentation of the material.

You hope that it doesn’t interfere with the song in a negative way – that’s kind of a tricky thing. But to a certain degree, no matter how hard you might try to make The Beatles sound like Chuck Berry or Motown, they’ll always sound like The Beatles. My stuff will always sound like my stuff (no matter how much I want to make it sound like Alan Moulder’s!) and The Pains will always sound like The Pains. Or at least they should. You’re doing something wrong if that doesn’t come through!

The guitars on this record are still big and somewhat quirky, with a touch of a shoegaze feel; but they also have much more clarity and lean power than a listener might expect from the band. How did you help obtain that blend?

Kip has a pedal that a friend of his made, and I thought it sounded absolutely disgusting at first. I tried to replace it with some other stuff I thought might work, but we found that stopped the tracks from having this recognizable Pains quality.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere! There are certain sounds in a band’s make-up that you just can’t take away without losing the thing that make it unique to them. It turns out that pedal is a huge signature, and as vile as I thought it sounded in isolation, it turns out it sounds awesome in the overall picture.

So anything that we added in terms of overdubs, whether it be a Les Paul through a Marshall JMP Lead, or a Stratocaster through a Fender Twin, it basically all had to sit with “that” Fender Jaguar, through “that” home-made pedal, through “that” Roland Jazz Chorus amp.

By the way, making the Roland Jazz Chorus popular again has become a bit of a personal crusade.

A noble mission! It definitely has its own sound, and many have found it can be a really cool base for layering effects.

We’d also love to ask a little bit about drums. That’s another place where “Belong” feels different than their prior records: The percussive elements have a metronomic quality that gives them a drum-machine feel; but at the same time, many of the individual tones sound like a hyped-up natural kit. Can you tell us about what inspired that kind of treatment, and how you helped get it?

Stream “Belong” at The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s website

Nearly all of it is natural kit, played by [Pains Drummer] Kurt [Feldman].

We took a bunch of different approaches on the album. “Strange” has live drums that were looped and treated; “Too Tough” uses more than one drum kit and a slap back delay on one of the snares, and I think “The Body” had a programmed machine part that we laid the real drums over.

Even on the songs that had a more conventional drum sound we’d often feed individual mics through guitar pedals. They would get fiddled with during takes to give the drums an “other” quality.

One day Flood put a [SoundToys] FilterFreak on the main drum ambience, and he set it up so the filters would only open on the snare back-beat. Over the course of the sessions we refined that. He said he’d been wanting to bring back the Phil Collins drum sound, but with a twist.

A lot of the fun in making a record like this comes from those collaborative aspects – you feed off of each other. If you have a creative producer, a creative engineer, and a creative band who are willing to try things, and there is a give-and-take in those relationships, that allows you to find yourself in some pretty unique places.

Speaking of unique places: your name is James Brown. We have to ask something about that. You don’t use a middle initial? Nothing? Has it ever led to any confusing moments?

I do get some funny looks when I walk into R&B and hip-hop sessions but I’ve stopped taking those bookings now… the disappointment on their faces was too much to bear!

It’s the name my mother gave me, so why would I not use it?

I figure it could have been worse. I could have been called Englebert Humperdink.

…Next question !

Is there any artist or producer living or dead, who you wish you could be making a record with tomorrow?

Brown at Sound City tracking Arctic Monkeys

There are tons! I’d love to be a fly on the wall at a Dave Fridmann session – it’s the understatement of the year to call that guy “creative.”

Peter Katis’ work is genius, as already noted. There’s John McEntire, and Chris Walla. And Joshua Homme, too. Not only is he an extraordinary musician, but he has a unique production sensibility that would make him a hugely interesting person to collaborate with.

I’d also love to do something with Rich Costey again. I learned a bunch from that guy. He has a viciously sharp sense of humor which sits very well with me. And of course, I’d work with Butch [Vig] any day of the week. He’s really one of my favorite people in the world.

As for artists, I’m a massive fan of Tom Waits, but I think working with him might be too intimidating for me. I’d love to do something with Harvey Milk, or Sunn O))), or Low. And Queens of the Stone Age. That’s an obvious one for me.

Even if some of those artists stay aspirational, you’ve worked on a lot of projects anyone would be proud to be part of, and managed to team up with some of your favorite producers already. What advice do you have to younger engineers who hope to see themselves in the same kind of place someday?

Just stick at it. There’s really no substitute for experience. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s whether you’re able to learn from them that sorts the men from the boys. Hang in there, even if it feels like you can’t catch a break.

I’ve met many excellent engineers who haven’t made it because for whatever reason they fell out of love with it. The ones that found a way of hanging on when the going got tough are, generally speaking, still working. From what I’ve seen, if you’ve been around long enough, and you’ve continued to learn and evolve at the job, someone will eventually recognize that fact.

Get in touch and stay up with James Brown via Just Managing.

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer and music producer who’s worked with Hotels, DeLeon, Soundpool, Team Genius and Monocle, as well as clients such as Nintendo, JDub, Blue Note Records, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit him at www.justincolletti.com.

Studio Sweet Spot: Luminous Velocity Productions

April 5, 2011 by  

Do you have tunnel vision, or are you constantly expanding your media universe? In East Flatbush, many disciplines are in action at Luminous Velocity, a nonstop melting pot of music and vision.

Multiple heads and monitors for multiple media, at Luminous Velocity.

Facility Name: Luminous Velocity Productions

Website: www.luminousvelocity.net

Location: East Flatbush, Brooklyn

Neighborhood Advantages:
East Flatbush is in the heart of Caribbean Culture here in NYC. The West Indian Day Parade is held annually here. We’re close to the 4 and 3 Train, and Bus Access is even closer. There’s a great variety of Caribbean food within a short walk away, and there are lots of good down-to-earth people from all walks of life.

Date of Birth: Luminous Velocity’s Studio started in the summer of 2007. We’ve grown in leaps and bounds to our present state since then.

Facility Focus: Where we shine is putting it all together, and delivering on what our clients need. Our studio handles Audio Production, Mixing/ Remixing (on-site/ remote), Composition, Mastering (Analog/Digital), and Visual Arts (3D, Video Editing, Motion/Print/Web graphics).

Mission Statement: Our mission is “Maintaining the Speed of Thought”. We work every day to create unique content, and bring the ideas of our clients and crew into reality.  Simply put, our mantra is “make stuff real”.

Clients/Credits:
Real to Myself Project (Ari Up, Anna Ozawa, Rhiannon of Subatomic Sound System) –  Recording, Production, Drum Programming, Mixing, Mastering
LaGuardia Community College /Journey To Success — DVD Production
Hezekiah Walker — Recording, Mixing
X-Calibur / “Not a Club Song” — Production, Mixing Mastering
Tommy Tunes — Dance Mixes, Training
Dijay – Hood Divas -Deck Entertainment — Recording and Mixing for No Limit Artist Rick Flair – 20 Bricks
Denver Smith — Production & Drum Programming
3X Entertainment -Fire & Brimstone Project — Production, Recording, Mixing, Mastering
Aswad Kefentse — Production, Recording, Mixing
Deuce Fever — Production, Mixing, Mastering
Full Deck Entertainment/Bounty Hunters — Production, Mixing, Mastering
DJ Dino Mileta — Recording,Arrangement, and Mixing
Akhil aka Ambition – Major – JD Mac & Lyricosiz — Production, Recording, Mastering
Hefnaz Productions — Mastering
Soul Degrees Dubplate Project — Remastering
Legal Hustle Entertainment — Production, Recording, Mixing
Rolling Big Entertainment — Production, Remixing, Programming, Mastering
Tomkevich Studios — Custom Studio Acoustic Treatment
CC Cowan — Production, Drum Programming, Mixing
Our Children’s Foundation — Custom Studio Construction
Drama Desk Awards — A/V Setup & Engineering
TSA Records — Recording, Mixing, Artist Development
many more….

Key Personnel:

(L-R) LV's Einstein Charles, Asukaya Bailey and Edward Jackson

Asukaya Bailey (Kaya) – CEO/ Founder
Edward Jackson (Cott)– VP/Audio Production Director
Jorge Alexander Cifuentes – Art Director/ Packaging Designer
Jason Calderone – CG Director/ Lead 3D Artist
Isa Ramadan Shaaf – A/V Director, Producer, and IT Guru
Einstein Charles – Audio Producer & Musical Genius
Alana Conway – Marketing Supervisor

System Highlights:
PC Side:
•    Luminous Velocity Custom Built Intel Quad-core PC (XP/Win7) • RME Digi96/52 Adat Lightpipe Soundcard • Wacom 8.5 x 11 Tablet
• Tascam SX-1LE  Mixing Console • Event 20/20 BAS Monitors (pair) • Event Tuned Reference 5 monitors (pair) • dbx 586 Dual Vacuum Tube Preamp •  Native Instruments Maschine

Mac Side:
•    Macbook Pro • Digidesign MBox 2 • Yamaha HS50 Monitors (pair) • Native Instruments Maschine • Akai MPK-25 Midi Controller • Behringer Tube Ultragain (Vintage Series) • Alesis Midiverb 4 • Dbx PD48 Patch Bay

Modules and Keyboards:

• Yamaha Stage Piano • Akai MPC 2000 • Korg Poly61 Vintage Analog Synthesizer (Pre-Midi) • Roland Fantom 61 • Alesis QSR Rack • Korg Triton Rack with Sampler • E-Mu MP-7

DJ Station & Other Gear:

• 2 Technics SL1200 MKII Direct Drive Turntable (Silver/Black) • Vestax PMC 17A-  3Channel turntable mixer • Behringer Eurorack UB1204FX-Pro( 8 Channel Mixer) • Behringer Eurorack MX 1604A • Athena 8 Bay DVD Duplicator ver 1.35 • ART Tube Pac (Professional Tube Amplifier/Compressor)

Audio Software:

• Digidesign Pro-Tools 8 LE • Steinberg Nuendo 3.4/4.3 • Logic Studio 9 • Ableton Live Suite 8.13 • Propellerhead Record 1.5
• Propellerhead Reason 4/5• Image Line FL Studio XXL 8 • Native Instrument Komplete 7 • Native Instruments Maschine x2
• and a host of other software instruments and plugins

Graphics and Video Software:

• Autodesk 3D studio Max 2009-2011 • Autodesk Maya 2009 • Autodesk Autocad 2009 • Adobe Master Collection CS4 & CS5
• (Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, Flash, Dreamweaver, Premiere, After Effects) •    Apple Final Cut Studio ( Final Cut, Motion, Sountdtrack) • Corel Painter XI •    Autodesk Combustion 2008 • Pixologic Zbrush 4.0 • and other design and visualization software

Everything comes together in East Flatbush. (Click thru for the full view!)

Distinguishing Characteristics: We provide a quiet and stable environment, sizeable recording booth, great atmosphere, and wealth of knowledge to each person that graces our facility. Our best features are based as much on our people, as they are on our equipment. Our crew & setup is extremely flexible and personable. A big part of what we do is working intelligently to give each client the necessary personnel, tools, and time to get their vision/sound just right.

The building is on fire, you only have time to grab ONE thing to save, what is it?
Our 1859 Scoffield Bible – and other rare books. Hopefully some HD drives. We’d like to get as much out as two hands can carry.

Rave Reviews: People love the atmosphere, sense of humor, and above all else the sound. One person called us “MIB” (Men In Black), as they would never know that there are so many tools, toys and treasures hidden in a small unassuming building in Brooklyn.

Most Memorable Session Ever: Two sessions over this past year come to mind. The first was an impromptu session in April with Rhiannon Erbach (Subatomic Sound), Anna Ozawa(an incredibly talented vocalist/ instrumentalist from Japan), and the late Great Ari Up (R.I.P) of the Slits on Bass.

The second most memorable session was with Reggae Artist Aswad Kefentse, Shabu Bak Men Floyd & Aquah Tcherbu Beale (two classical African Percussionists from Sheps Hetep Ancestral Music), Andy Bassford (great guitarist who’s played for the Legendary Jamaican Producer Coxsone Dodd, Shaggy, and others) and Larry McDonald telling us about the good old days of recording using Stones from the Flinstones Rock Quarry. Good times…

Session You’d Like to Forget:
A few sessions have taught us to do smarter business, and to respect our craft.

Dream Session: Cott’s Dream would have been working with Michael Jackson, Portishead, Barrington Levy, Dennis Brown, Black Uhuru, Hughby Banks and the esteemed Edward Jackson senior.

Kaya’s dream session would be Burning Spear, U2, Jimi Hendrix, Ras Michael and The Sons of Negus, Augustus Pablo, The Abbyssinians, Yoko Kanno, Pink Floyd, and Muddy Waters.

For Einstein’s dream session he would like to work with Will.i.am, Timbaland, Machel Montano, Lord Kitchener, Jr. Gong, & Usher.

Asukaya Bailey (Kaya), CEO/ Founder of Luminous Velocity

Wines That Rock: Cultivating Inspiration, Music and Marketing Zen

December 12, 2010 by  

MIDTOWN, MANHATTAN: Sometimes a winning idea is pure as the driven snow, and other times it’s a more complex combination. The progress of NYC-based Wines That Rock shows that a great music business concept only requires one simple spin on the obvious to get ahead.

Wines That Rock were borne of a brainstorm.

Launched in 2009, Wines That Rock didn’t just inject more alcohol into the marketplace. Instead, they put their finger on something that people were really ready for, creating music-inspired wines that resulted in three initial rock varietals: Rolling Stones “Forty Licks” Merlot, “Woodstock” Chardonnay, and Pink Floyd “The Dark Side of the Moon” Cabernet Sauvignon. Most recently, a Police “Synchronicity” blend has entered the mix.

File under: “Why didn’t we think of that?” Each wine – crafted by the sustainable Mendocino Wine Company winemaker Mark Beaman – features the album’s iconic art (or the Woodstock 40th Anniversary poster), and plays off an entirely different dimension of emotional appeal than your typical bottle of vino. Like wine and food, wine and music is a prime pairing – the difference is that the latter remains largely unexplored.

As you might suspect, Wines That Rock had some connections and experience to make the idea take flight. One of the primary partners is NYC’s RZO Interactive, a division of the rock business management firm RZO that represents The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, U2, Sting and The Police. Along with Bowie, RZO created the first online fan club company in UltraStar Entertainment, which grew to over 30 artist online fan clubs and was eventually sold to Live Nation – in turn, a core group of UltraStar founders are the creative force behind Wines That Rock.

Get the picture? These are people that understand music and how to execute a business plan. Wines That Rock Co-founder/Partner Ron Roy spells out here how to grow your gestalt, and then make the market flow in your direction.

Ron Roy of Wines That Rock: He's thought this through.

How did the Wines That Rock concept come about?
One day I was sitting at the kitchen table with some baseball cards and listening to the Flaming Lips. I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to loop this glass of wine into something that connects the music to me? If I saw the “Dark Side of the Moon” album cover on a wine bottle, I’d go check it out.

In Wines that Rock, my partners and I are from the music industry. We started UltraStar Entertainment in the ’90, and were a ticketing technology company that provided fan clubs with a VIP experience – we represented the Rolling Stones, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, David Bowie among others. It was eventually sold to Live Nation in 2005.

We’re entrepreneurs at heart, always trying to come up with some interesting things. I said, “How about this? We know we can get to the artist. So what if we could find a winery who would believe in what we’re doing, and challenge them to make an interpretation of what “Dark Side of the Moon” means, making a custom-crafted wine to put in the bottle.”

That sounds like a deceptively simple concept.
It’s traditional to make wines that pair well with food. But if you think about pairing music and wine, music is everywhere – romantic dinners at a restaurant, in a bar, on TV via commercials and film soundtracks. Even though music is part of a lifestyle that people project, no one was really taking a serious look at music and wine. So there’s an opportunity there. Last year there were 100,000 different wines available. That’s a crowded market – I don’t want to play in that sandbox with a normal wine company.

We wanted to look at it as part of an experience. When people bring these wines to parties, or when we do tastings or events, the stories just come out like crazy when they see the labels. “I saw the Stones in ’95,” “I had Pink Floyd posters in my dorm room,” “My uncle went to Woodstock.” Our wines tell these amazing stories of people, and it brings out this whole social atmosphere.

How are you picking what albums to design a wine around?
We wanted a good variety, and we look at a number of things when making this decision. To start with, we wanted to pick amazing albums, and then you also have to put your marketing hat on.

Dark Side of the Moon has sold 50,000,000 copies worldwide – it’s such an iconic album and everyone knows that album cover. Cabernet sauvignon is the best selling varietal, so when we talked to our winemaker, Mark Beaman, we told him to be experimental with it – you can do a lot with cabernet.  Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones’ biggest touring album, 40 Licks, is the only album with the tongue-and-lip artwork, and that’s one of the most recognizable images in rock. We wanted to bring out what the Stones are all about – the big, complex, heaviness of the music – and so that’s why we chose to make it a merlot.

Our winery in Mendocino County is one of the most sustainable. We won the Governor’s Economic and Environmental Leadership Award two out of the last three years, so we wanted something that presented sustainability and the Earth. When we looked at the Woodstock poster we said, “Let’s bring the whole philosophy of what Woodstock is about through the farms of Mendocino.” The result is this 2008 chardonnay.

For Synchronicity, that was interesting. Our first three wines are all varietals, but red blends are hot. We wanted something unique and different, and the word “synchronicity” kept sticking with us – bringing all these events together, and somehow they work. Mark sold us on taking several grapes that typically aren’t matched together. UltraStar worked with Sting, it’s an iconic album cover, and we thought it would be different to do something from the New Wave environment. That all added up, and when our winemaker gets excited he makes something interesting.

"Synchronicity" is a unique blend -- just like Andy, Stewart and Sting.

So once the wine is conceptualized, what kind of business arrangement has to be worked out with the artist?
For our first three launches, it’s about going to them, partnering with them and saying, “Let’s work together and make this a success: great music, and great wine in the bottle.” The fan base of bands like Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones are the wheelhouse for our demographic. They have their fan clubs, email lists, Websites, and we work together as partners — they send out a nice newsletter announcing the wine, for example. In another initiative, we’ve just launched a contest with Wine Enthusiast magazine giving away a guitar signed by Sting. All of these bands or events have been brands for 40 years, and they have a following.

Then there’s our past history with UltraStar, and one of my partners has the management firm RZO that produced the Reunion Tour of the Police – that made it easier in the case of Synchronicity. When we went to the Police we said, “We’ve been out there a year now. We’ve had great success and wide distribution, done well at the varietal level, got great press, and we’re ahead of our projections.”

It all gets back to Marketing 101. We wanted to make this a partnership, doing cooperative marketing with the band. We coordinate with the Police, Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones marketing, and that’s the model we take to our bands and their partners.

It’s obviously a very smart approach to getting a music-related idea off the ground. If someone is reading this and they’re inspired, how would you suggest that they come up with their own winning concept?
I teach entrepreneurial studies, and I tell my students every semester, “It’s so difficult to be 100% unique, and have a purely organic idea that no one else has touched in some way.” But if you can come up with an original idea, also bring in a proven idea, and look at the big picture, you might develop a hit.

Looking at Wines that Rock as an example, the wine industry is a $70 billion industry, with 100,000 different wines on the market. So our question was, “How do I get myself some of that shelf space? How can we stick out in this crowded industry?” There’s so much room in the music industry to come up with a unique idea, you just have to find it.

My favorite term in the class is, “What’s the secret sauce?” For example, if you have a mobile technology and it somehow intertwines with music, what are you putting out there that another company isn’t doing? There’s a lot of ways to skin it, so really look at what’s successful, and then look for an opening that you can prove no one else is doing. No one was doing a custom wine based on the experience of an album and a label – that I could prove when we were conceptualizing Wines That Rock.

The great thing about music is that there’s new product all the time, especially from a technologically standpoint. There are companies that have made a fortune building a widget. The idea doesn’t have to stand alone or be self-supporting – it can converge with something that’s already out there. So what’s your secret sauce?

– David Weiss

40th Anniversary Salute to Electric Lady Studios Hosted by AES NY Section

August 24, 2010 by  

On Tuesday, August 24th, the NY Section of the Audio Engineering Society hosted a 40th Anniversary Salute to the legendary Electric Lady Recording Studios and the Jimi Hendrix legacy.

Electric Lady Recording Studios is psyched to turn 40

Almost four decades ago to the day, on August 26th, 1970 Electric Lady  opened its doors at 52 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village. Just 23 days later, Hendrix passed away, leaving his inimitable music to live on as well as his studio, which has been the birthplace of hits for Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, Patti Smith, U2, Sheryl Crow, The Strokes, Jay-Z, Beyonce and scores more.

A panel presentation was a part of the evening and included:

– Jimi’s sister, Janie Hendrix, CEO/President, Experience Hendrix

Eddie Kramer, engineer of all Hendrix’s recording sessions

– studio architect/acoustician John Storyk, who began his recording studio design career with Electric Lady, and whose international Walters-Storyk Design Group has created over 3,000 studios around the globe

(l-r) John Storyk and Eddie Kramer at Electric Lady

– long time Electric Lady engineer Tony Platt (AC/DC, Foreigner)

– Grammy-winning engineer Bob Margouleff (Stevie Wonder)

Other guests, included artists who have recorded at Electric Lady throughout its 40-year history.

While admission was strictly limited to 60 attendees, CBS provided streaming of the event via the AES NY Section Website at http://www.aes.org/sections/ny/.

Composer PROfile: Tony Graci Rides “Ghost Bikes” with Allstate

August 1, 2010 by  

FLATIRON DISTRICT, MANHATTAN: Insurance isn’t there to cause controversy. It’s actually supposed to be about as exciting as a grocery cart.

Ghost Bikes" ride the airwaves.

Usually the commercials are just as straightforward, but the Allstate spot “Ghost Bikes” airing this summer has proven to be an unintentional exception. In this visually arresting ad from agency Leo Burnett, rich slow motion footage shows riderless motorcycles biting it big time – unreal imagery that’s proven to be too much for some of those who have experienced the reality of a motorcycle crash.

The visuals are pushed further by the haunting slide guitar-driven track created by the NYC composition team of Tony Graci, James Leibow, and collaborators Human Music and Sound Design. Graci, an upbeat multi-instrumentalist whose reel includes Guinness beer, Volkswagen, Colgate, drums on the Emmy-winning soundtrack for “The Lew Rudin Way” and more, told SonicScoop about how this crash-and-earn project rolled onto his radar.

You’ve been building up a good portfolio of commercial music. What makes someone qualified to make songs specifically for the ad world?

Great ad music composers I know like Randy Lee of Limebeat and James Leibow, they go on instinct and really being aware of different styles of music. The client will ask for a vibe, like a U2 sound or give an example of what they’re looking for, and you take it from there and try to create a composition that reflects that music.

As a composer, you need to have a great ear for the elements. If they ask for a Latin groove, you need to know about Latin clave and rhythms so you can actually create it.

That’s a solid starting position. So how did you get the call for this spot?

James, who is a great guitar player called me to play some slide, and wanted me to use my National Resophonic guitar. Being a drummer first and foremost I felt a little intimidated to do the session, but he insisted I play on it.

What kind of music did the agency Leo Burnett ask you guys for, and how did that guide what you put together, as a result?

They didn’t say Ry Cooder specifically, but that’s what I thought of when they asked for a Southwestern/Paris, Texas style. As a composer you know about that style, and its paints a picture in your mind of what the client is after.James and I got in the studio together, and he played me the video of the motorcycles crashing, and I started playing. We knew that was it.

We chose the National Resophonic acoustic slide guitar for its very authentic bluesy raspy sound. In addition, if you listen to the arrangement there’s also a drum pattern, with a little drone in the background to give a little vibe to it. The acoustic guitar propels the whole piece, but there’s also an electric slide, because you can add delays and reverbs to it. Space it out a little bit like a Ry Cooder thing, and that’s what they were looking for.

Did the client love it as much as you did? What did they say when you submitted the track?

They really liked it, but wanted some revisions. They wanted it more riffy-oriented, rather than a spacey vibe. They wanted more rhythms, so we went back and adjusted it, and they were super-happy with that.

We also gave them a third version for some extra variety — a finger-picky, banjo type thing. They liked that, but they used the second piece that we had made and cut it up into a :15 and a :30. It’s been airing since June and it’s been on the air a lot.

Where did you record the track, and what were some of key tools that you used?

We did it at James’ studio at Human, using Logic Pro, API mic pre’s, and Apogee converters.

How would you describe, in a nutshell, the overall challenge that you face with each ad project?

Well, basically you’ve got the task of coming up with a :30 piece of music that usually has to build, hit the product shot at the end, and resolve.

Obviously, it depends on what you’re writing for. They’ll tell you sometimes, “When the product shot hits, the music needs to change and open up.” But it’s always gotta change, it can’t stay the same. Then you need a climax, and once you get that, you’re home free. You either have it end right on the logo, or else they do a fast fade.

As we all know, just being talented at music doesn’t cut it anymore. What are the other factors — great service, other intangibles — that you think are important in making advertising clients happy?

You have to be prepared for a very quick turnaround. The client gives you an assignment and it’s usually due the next day, or you may have a few days to work on it. The key to accomplishing a fast turnaround is you need to focus in on what you need to do right away.

Usually, the agency will give you a creative brief and then from there, you ask questions if you’re not clear with anything, and from there – Boom! — you’re on your way. Sometimes you get the opportunity to be creative, that happens sometimes too – “This is a test spot, come up with something.” That’s when you can let your creative juices flow. But you still have to move fast, because you know how these executive types are.

That’s the most stressful pat of being a composer, is the turnaround time. Even if they like your piece, they always ask for revisions. Sometimes you’ll do that, and then they’ll end up liking what you originally had. Do what they asked you to do, accommodate them, and hopefully they’ll love it.

(l-r) James Leibow and Tony Graci

You told me that this ad, “Ghost Bikes” generated some controversy. What was the problem? Was that a surprise to you?

Well, if you read the comments on YouTube you can see what people thought of the ad itself and the track. Some loved the music, but some were not pleased with the subject matter.

I was surprised, because the way it was shot was incredible and listening to Blues music going along to it, as a musician, I thought it worked really well with the footage. But reading those comments on YouTube where people have lost family members in motorcycle accidents, they’re appalled and saying, “We don’t need to be reminded.” I can see how people would think that.

After all that work, what’s the reward of actually hearing your music on TV?

When it’s early on in your career, and you get the first couple of things, you say “Wow, I did that!” But then as you win a few more, and you watch it on TV, you’re just proud of it, which is also a good thing.

And then of course there are some ads that are a little cheesy, but then you’re happy because you got some residuals. You’re always happy to say, “I’m getting paid!”

Anything else?

Drummers rule!

– David Weiss

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